The flurry that is the Trump Administration continues to impact Indian Country in ways that are expected — as well as those that surprise. A nasty surprise at that.
The latest offering is a presidential signing statement that targets federal programs that serve American Indians, Alaska Natives, as well as those that fund historically black colleges. Because this statement is attached to the spending bill that just passed Congress, H.R. 244, it gives the Trump Administration legal cover to cancel grants and funding streams already in motion.
My Administration shall treat provisions that allocate benefits on the basis of race, ethnicity, and gender (e.g., Division B, under the heading “Minority Business Development”; Division C, sections 8016, 8021, 8038, and 8042; Division H, under the headings “Departmental Management Salaries and Expenses,” “School Improvement Programs,” and “Historically Black College and University Capital Financing Program Account”; Division K, under the heading “Native American Housing Block Grants”; and Division K, section 213) in a manner consistent with the requirement to afford equal protection of the laws under the Due Process Clause of the Constitution’s Fifth Amendment.
In other words the Trump Administration doesn’t want to spend money on Native American housing block grants or on HBCUs. (And that makes me wonder, are tribal colleges next?) The spending bill included some $654 million for tribal housing programs.
Will the Trump Administration spend the money that’s appropriated? That’s now a real question. The signing statement is a serious threat to appropriations for this year.
Presidential signing statements are extra-legal authority. No. That’s not right either. The American Bar Association said in 2006 that this process undermines the law. It’s an invention says a president knows more than Congress. Signing statements have been around since James Monroe. But, according to the American Presidency Project, Andrew Jackson was a fan. “In May 1830, Andrew Jackson wrote an message to the House stating his understanding of the limits of an appropriation: “the phraseology of the section which appropriates the sum of $8,000 for the road from Detroit to Chicago may be construed to authorize the application of the appropriation for the continuance of the road beyond the limits of the Territory of Michigan, I desire to be understood as having approved this bill with the understanding that the road authorized by this section is not to be extended beyond the limits of the said Territory.”
The Trump White House is eager to destroy the federal government as it exists now. And this signing statement is a sneak attack. — Mark Trahant